Your Pain Is Our Pleasure
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April 5, 2016
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Something is massive if it possesses mass. Many things possess mass -- even a litre of air is massive. But of course, there are many things that do not possess mass -- ideas, sounds, and time are not massive.
In the news today, there are stories about a massive recession, a massive data leak, a massive spending bill, a massive fire, and a massive year for Taekwondo stars. None of these things possess mass. There is also a story about a massive 15-foot alligator. Surely the alligator has mass, but I believe they mean "big".
I also see the headline "Microsoft Makes Five Massive Windows 10 Changes". Changes can be many things -- significant or insignificant, laudable or despicable, for instance -- but they can't be massive. Perhaps the headline should be "Microsoft Makes Five Significant, Laudable Windows 10 Changes".
I see a headline about a "massive gold heist". Surely someone will comment that gold has mass. But a gold heist does not. A heist is a robbery, burglary, or holdup. These things do not possess mass.
And then there are the advertisements. A massive freebie bundle of software. A massive year-end sale of nail polish. A massive celebration. A massive year of home building.
And the political statements. Massive budget cuts. Massive contracts. A massive year of ups and downs.
It's silly. Budget cuts can be severe; why not say "severe"? A spending bill can be huge; why not say "huge"? A fire can be devastating; why not say "devastating" -- or better still, "four-alarm" or "five-alarm", if specifics are available?
Using the word "massive" suggests that the writer understands something about the object being described that the rest of us don't know: some aspect of the object that possesses mass. Perhaps an explosion is "massive" because it moves a massive quantity of air and debris.
But an explosion is not massive. An explosion is a violent expansion that transmits energy outward as a shock wave. It may be enormous. It may be destructive. It may be contained or uncontained. But it's not massive, and a writer conveys no useful information -- or impression of secret knowledge -- to say that it is.
There will always be buzzwords -- words that seem for a few years to mean more than they do. I have some hopes that "literally" and "awesome" are dying their natural deaths. But "massive" has crept into popular use among newspeople and professional writers -- not just among politicians, advertisers, and adolescents. I fear that they will inflict the word on us for many years before they realize how silly it sounds.
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